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Shenzhou-8 set to return after successful space rendezvous

Artistic illustration of Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou capsule in orbit. A file photo

BEIJING (BNS): After successfully completing its space rendezvous mission, China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 is set to return to Earth on Thursday.

The spacecraft, which completed two space docking missions with the Tiangong-1 space lab, departed from the prototype module at 6:30 pm Wednesday, the official Xinuha news agency reported.

The space capsule is expected to land back on Earth around 7 pm Thursday, the spokesperson for China's manned space programme said.

While the first space docking that quietly joined the Shenzhou-8 with Tiangong-1 in space more than 343 km above the Earth's surface on November 3, the second rendezvous between the two spacecraft took place on November 14.

The Shenzhou-8 had successfully disengaged from Tiangong-1 after a 12-day flight together and later re-docked with it again.

China launched the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft on November 1 as part of its ambitious plan to set up a space station by 2020.

Earlier on September 29, the country had launched the Tiangong-1 space module as the test-bed for space docking technology.

The Tiangong-1 is designed to stay in space for about two years during which two more spacecraft -- Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 -- will dock with it. Both the spacecraft will take Chinese astronauts to space.

With the successful space docking mission, China has become only the third country after the US and Russia to develop and test such technology and a step ahead in its ambitious plan to build a manned space station, which it hopes will be fully operational by 2020.


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